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MOVEMENT: The Principle of Design

A Guide for Teachers

MOVEMENT is a principle of design that seems deceptively simple -- you may think that it only means one thing, but there’s actually a lot more to it than meets the eye. Having movement within your artwork will give it much more visual interest, so let’s start off by defining what movement is, exactly!

Are your students not fans of reading? Don’t worry. We have a short and sweet video all about movement that gives them a fun and quick rundown of the principle, suitable for grades 5 - 12!

What is Movement?

Movement is the principle of design used to give artists the ability to lead a viewer’s eyes around an art piece. For instance, artists will create pathways within their artwork so that a viewer will automatically look at a piece in a certain direction. Movement is also used to show physical action on a still image, such as showing an action scene, a character running away, dancing, or fighting another character. But movement is used in more than just pathways and punches -- so let’s dive in!

Movement with Rhythm and Repetition

Rhythm and repetition are two other principles of design that contribute to movement within a piece. Repetition entails elements repeating to create unity (another principle of design), throughout the artwork. Rhythm is the use of patterns to create a “visual tempo”. Sort of like music in a composition, but purely visual, this visual tempo is what creates a sense of movement. Based on the pattern present, our eyes automatically travel across the piece “in time with the rhythm.” This can be done with anything from a simple pattern of shapes, to the chain links of a necklace, to a rising staircase!

Metamorphosis III Excerpt 4 by MC Escher is a perfect example of movement created with rhythm and repetition. The morphing birds to boats to fish create a pattern that moves from left to right, which automatically makes our eyes follow that pattern. We know it moves from left to right because of the direction each of the figures face, which makes them appear to move across the piece. The direction that elements face is a great strategy to move eyes in a direction that you want them to!

Metamorphosis III Excerpt 4 by MC Escher
Metamorphosis III Excerpt 4 by MC Escher

Movement with Colour and Value

Fiesta in Figueres by Salvador Dali
Fiesta in Figueres by Salvador Dali

Colour, an element of art, can create focal points within our piece that lead our eyes to specific places by using contrast. Contrast, another principle of design, is all about opposite elements being placed next to each other in order to emphasize certain subjects. In order to create contrast with colour, you’ll usually want to use a colour with light values (like yellow) against a colour with dark values (like dark blue). Based on whatever there’s less of, our eyes will automatically travel to that point. You can even use your values strategically to have eyes go in a certain pattern across your piece, such as having them start with a super high contrast and then slowly fade out into a lower contrast!

Fiesta in Figueres by Salvador Dali is an excellent use of colour to create movement. This may not look like much of his popular work, and that’s because this is an early piece of his! The bright yellow contrasted against the dark blue background creates an instant spot where our eyes travel to in the center of the crowd, but Dali also utilizes leading lines to create a pathway. But let’s define what those are before we dive in too deep!

Movement with Line

Line is another element of art that’s probably one of the more common ways to create movement within an art piece. As mentioned previously, leading lines are a very commonly utilized way to create a “visual path” for a viewer's eyes to follow. Sometimes they’re implied, such as birds flying in a certain direction or the angle of perspective, or sometimes they’re literal, like a pathway or literal arrows. These all create a very obvious direction for a viewer’s eyes to follow, and can be used strategically to create visual movement.

Action lines are another strategy that’s used within figure drawings to create movement. These lines, while not usually kept in the final drawing, are always implied within the way a figure moves, making them feel more dynamic. Action lines are also known as gestures.

Horizon by Jon Harris uses lines in two ways to show movement -- one way is with the perspective the orange panels create, which leads our eyes to travel towards the purple pillar in the center. The second is with the little purple objects that travel around the pillar, creating an oval shaped frame for the focal point. Conveniently, they’re also shaped like arrows, so our eyes know to go from the bottom to the top.

Horizon by Jon Harris
Horizon by Jon Harris

Implied Movement/Action

This is probably the most used way to show movement, and probably the one you thought of first! Implied movement/action is just drawing someone or something that’s actually moving, whether they’re running, jumping, being shoved across a room -- if it’s supposed to be moving, that’s implied movement!

In order to create that movement, dynamic poses are needed for people and animals. Those poses feel more fluid and utilize lines of action very heavily. The more cartoony the style, the more exaggerated they are with the line of action. Sometimes, extra lines are added on top of the figures to emphasize quicker movement, though this is usually only done with more graphic/cartoony styles.

One Punch Man illustrated by Yusuke Murata utilizes a lot of that movement within its panels -- whether they’re fighting, running, or just on a light stroll. This panel in particular utilizes those extra action lines to emphasize movement, but draws them along the perspective to emphasize the direction of their march.

One Punch Man illustrated by Yusuke Murata
One Punch Man illustrated by Yusuke Murata

Movement is a design principle that goes beyond fine art as it is also widely used in fashion, furniture and accessories, as well as branded promotional products. Movement is a principle that you probably already have the hang of -- at the very least, you probably already knew how to use implied movement and action. But practicing the expression of movement with these elements of art and principles of design will make your artwork even more dynamic and visually interesting, whether there are figures or not!

If you’d like to learn more about the principles of design or the elements of art, be sure to tune into our YouTube playlist that has concise videos all about the elements of art and the principles of design! More classroom resources like this one can be found on our art resources for teachers page, where we’ve covered all of the elements of art.

If you’d like worksheets related to the elements and principles of art, check out our teachers pay teachers page, where you can get worksheets and lesson plans for your classroom!

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